The following was written between a coworker and I through email over the course of a couple weeks. Italicized text was written by me, responses by her. It was a lot of fun and I’d be willing to do something similar upon request. I make no promises as to quality and enjoy-ability, but I’d certainly do my best for both! Note: D&D ≠ Dungeons and Dragons – see if you can figure out its actual meaning! Without further ado, and with minimal editing, step into the dungeon…
You walk into a chamber. Floor, ceiling, and walls alike are of moist stone slabs. Two torches suspended by rusty metal casings to your left and right light the space. Rattle RATTLE CRASH! A reinforced iron gate has slammed shut behind you, leaving your only path forward one of two passages up ahead. The one on the left features an archway carved to resemble a grinning dragon, the right a demon with mouth gaping wide. Both passages smell of french fries. Which do you choose, left or right? And what equipment did you bring with you into this…
I choose the right path. Clearly dragons can’t be trusted and his grin is off-putting. I have a ball of yarn, a bag of Reese’s cups, 9 freshly sharpened pencils, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and a Pepsi.
The right path winds a bit, and at one point is almost pitch-dark, but eventually you reach another room where there’s…
… a demon! Also, a wooden table upon which lay a wooden paddle, a bottle filled with an unidentified clear liquid, and a book titled – but there’s no time to read the cover right now! The demon staggers toward you in a meandering line! What will you do?
Clearly this demon is in need of a drink. His throat is dry and it is making him cough. I offer to share my Pepsi with him to quench his thirst.
The demon blindly grabs the bottle, squeezing it so hard the cap blows off, Pepsi splashing all about. Perceiving that there is liquid in whatever it’s holding, it dumps the rest down its gaping maw. Emitting a great gulp, a visible bulge travels down its throat and there is an audible plop as the object lodged in its gullet drops down into the demon’s stomach cavity. The holy water in the bottle on the table briefly emerges and takes on the shape of Jesus, who grins and flashes you a thumbs-up. The demon gasps for a moment and then, noticing your presence, claps a hand on your shoulder.
“Thanks for that. That darn dragon bet me I couldn’t swallow a potato in one gulp, but I guess we showed it, huh? Now to collect my winnings!”
It rushes past you, dropping a potato peeler as it goes.
There is a path to your left and a path straight ahead, both unadorned. You can’t tell what either smells like because the current room stinks of french fries. There is however a draft of warm air from the left.
How do you proceed?
Before leaving, I stop to peruse the book that was lying on the table with the holy water. Then I choose the path straight ahead. I don’t like to be hot.
The book is “10 Hot Tips for Frenching Fries” by Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. You flip through the very informative and scrumptiously illustrated pages, many of which are flecked with dried demonic drool (the latter is very distinctive, drying in characteristic purple spirals), and a scrap of paper falls out.
As you pass by the left corridor, there comes the sound of screeching, then roaring. For a moment the air grows even warmer and there’s the smell of smoke. The screeching continues after this, followed by a rumbling and a sound like a gemstone being tossed to a fireproof demon who won a bet.
The passage you find yourself in is very narrow, but better lit, and you are forced to edge your way around the billowing torches. Near the end, the floor, walls, and ceiling are caked in a thick red substance which continues on into the open room ahead.
This room is larger than the last, and the red paint merges with the paintings found four of the six surfaces. The floor is a random mess of colors which align roughly with the paintings. On the left wall is a cityscape, shadowy and vast, a pale green light upon the horizon under a starless sky. The wall opposite from you shows a pillared temple rising up from between the trees of a forested island, fat white clouds hanging in the sky above. to your right is a scene of demons at a table on either side of a dragon. The dragon is grinning and has more playing cards than anyone else in the scene. The ceiling depicts a giant eye, iris red and lids a-glaring.
What do you do?
I walk to the painting of the dragons and demons playing cards. I am very suspicious that the painting depicts the dragon cheating. I take one of my handy, freshly-sharpened pencils and add cards to each of the demons hands so they are all on a level playing field.
Then I wander the room taking in details of the other paintings.
As soon as the painting is changed, it continues to morph. The dragon now looks worried. The demons look delighted, signs of which include (but are not limited to) punching the air and kicking the underside of the table. Drinks are spilled and cashews jostled.
The eye above blinks, narrows, and then goes completely white, tiny red veins left behind with the vanishing of the pupil. There is the distant thound of thumping.
The island in the center painting is closer than it was before. You can see a figure standing upon the beach, hand over their eyes.
The ghastly city remains the same.
What do you do? Hurry!
I go to the painting of the island and use another of my freshly sharpened pencils to shade in the clouds above the island turning them from white and fluffy to dreary. Then I add raindrops to soak the figure on the beach.
Then I rush to the other side and add twinkling stars to the sky above the cityscape.
The figure on the beach runs from the rain over to a tree and breaks uproots it, crafting a makeshift umbrella. They then return to their post, staring out from the painting at you. The island stays at the same distance.
With the emergence of the stars so also emerge clouds of demons from the buildings. They appear to be screaming, some clawing at their faces and pointing at the stars. The eye above has returned, and the giant lids crinkle with mirth at the sight of the distraught demons.
The sound of thumping is closer, accompanied by a discordant scraping in regular intervals. There is a murmuring, unintelligible voice.
What do you do? Hurry!
I head back to the painting of the island. I wave to the figure in the painting and ask what I should do now. The figure seems to know something based on the way they are staring at me pretty intensely.
The figure quickly signs to you that demons don’t like light and happy things and that you should appeal to their devilish nature. Good thing you know sign language! Your back is turned to it but you might be amused to know that the eye in the ceiling is glaring at the figure.
The thumping sounds sound very close now, and a somewhat whiny, indignant voice can be heard: “… can’t believe it, like oh my god the nerve of this human ruining my art and spoiling my imps, I am going to UGHHH [there comes the indistinguishable/inextinguishable noise of fire rushing from a beautifully-fanged mouth].” The room is definitely getting warmer now.
What do you do? Holy crap, hurry!
I decide that this demon is getting on my nerves and I’m not changing anything. I shoot a glare at the creepy eye in the ceiling, a thumbs up to the figure in the painting, sit down on the floor, pull out my copy of Neverwhere and start to read while I wait for whatever nonsense is coming my way.
The eye glares back, and if it had a body it would cross its arms and turn away from you with a huff. But it doesn’t, so it can’t.
The figure in the painting signs “good luck!” and sits down on the beach to watch from afar, planting the tree in the sand next to them. The tree is less interested in the whole situation than they are but is a good sport given its circumstances.
“The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not…” but you are barely through the incredibly intriguing opening sentence of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere before danger imposes.
You tried to avoid the dragon, but you can really only ever avoid a dragon for so long. That said, you only get the head of the dragon, the neck of which trails back through the darkness of the previous passages, presumably connecting to a larger body at some point. Along its iridescent blue and purple-scaled neck are clawed arms, helping to hold it up so the neck muscles, prodigious as they are, do not have to do all the work. The two arms closest to the head are larger than the others, the nails sharpened to almost unbelievable points, palms sitting flat upon the floor. There is an ornate silver bracelet upon one wrist, and many of the smaller arms bear similar accessories, all of the highest quality. The red paint near the dragon is beginning to bubble.
“Like, what the hell, you barge into my lair unasked for and all you’ve done is cause trouble from, like, the very first second! You are totally the rudest. Do you have anything to say for yourself before I toast your skinny little ass?” Its rage expended a little, the dragon glances around. “Pretty funny messing with the demons and that disgusting statue-thing, but that one is all wrong! I always win. Like, I lost a bet for the first time EVER because of your meddling today.” Green eyes swivel to back down at you. “… what are you reading?”
How do you proceed? I would tell you to hurry, but you look pretty comfortable sitting there.
I stay seated and smile at the dragon. I tell the dragon how beautiful it is because dragons love to hear how beautiful they are. Plus, in general dragons are beautiful and should be complimented anyway.
Then I launch into a passionate explanation about Neverwhere, how it is my absolute favorite book of all time and all things Neil [Gaiman] in general. I explain how I seem to have found myself in a similar situation to Richard Mayhew as I’ve suddenly been thrust into this world of dragons and demons. I ask the dragon if it has ever read any of Neil’s work. I continue to call Neil by his first name only because I know we are friends even though we don’t know each other.
I apologize for the loss of the bet but explain that I merely thought the demon was choking and was attempting to help. I also ask the dragon what the deal is with the giant huffy eyeball.
The dragon blinks and rears back a little, a claw going to its cheek.
“Oh… well, thank you. Like, beauty literally hurts my imps, so it’s nice to have someone actually like, appreciate all the work I put into being breathtaking. You’re not too shabby yourself, for a human at least.” The room has become noticeably more temperate. “And I totally understand what it’s like to be stuck somewhere you didn’t ask to be and really aren’t all that interested in… but you like, have to make the best of things, right?” She glances at the painting of the card game and then rests her chin in one claw, folding the other under her. “Tell you what. Your friend Neil sounds pretty rad, and I haven’t read a good book in like, for-everrr. If you give me your copy of Neverwhere I’ll let you go free, even though you totally ruined my day and vandalized my art.”
“Oh, and never mind the eye. It came with the property. Some sort of, like, familiar or something?” She shrugs. “Makes for good security.”
Well? Do you share your literature with this luxurious lizard?
Of course I share Neverwhere with my new dragon friend. I never pass up an opportunity to share a good read with an interested party!
Talons pluck the book from your outstretched hand with inhuman precision, and the dragon starts reading immediately, enormous eyes flicking almost imperceptibly back and forth, and is four pages in before she once again acknowledges your presence. “Oh. You’re still here. Like, go out the front way if you want. I’ll open it for you.” Muscles beneath scales ripple from neck down along the rest of the shimmering body and out the door, and a rattling rumble can be heard in the distance. Long before this the dragon has gone back to reading the book and pretending you’re not there. The eye in the ceiling appears to be looking over her shoulder and reading as well, though it still manages to find time to spare a glare at you as you exit. The figure in the painting jumps up and down, pumping their fist.
Well? You seem to be free to go if you choose!
Why would I leave? There is adventure and exploration to be had! I decide I’m going to explore this cave system while the dragon is distracted with the wonderful words of my friend Neil. I wave to the figure in the painting, glare back at the eye, and slide quietly past the dragon. I’m going on an adventure!!
Your awful sense of direction leads you right out the front door before you know it, and it slams shut behind you, red runes burning on it that translate to “closed until Neverwhere 2.” Outside, everything is boring and all the adventures have already been taken. How unfortunate. THE END